Re: Lovers and Fools and Seething Brains

Cynthia Haynes (
Mon, 24 Mar 1997 16:53:02 -0600

On Mon, 24 Mar 1997, Kevin Davis wrote:

> Cynthia Haynes writes:
> . . . How can we ever truly know either of these things about a speaker's
> motives? . . .
> Cynthia,
> Who but the audience can judge a speaker's motives? Surely not the speaker
> herself. The speaker's motives and ideas become irrelevant as soon as she
> speaks; what matters then is what the audience *perceives* to be the speaker's
> motives. Isn't that what we teach our tutors? Isn't that what we teach in our
> writing courses? What the audience perceives is what is.

Kevin...I was responding to an assumption that Latisha had made when she
wrote that speakers who use the kinds of words we've been talking about
use "words-to-impress rather than words-to-mean." I just don't see how
(or why) anyone can make this assumption that a speaker uses her words to
impress rather than to mean something. Why would that be one's first
assumption? THAT is what I meant by my question.

> And that's why I haven't been to a CCCC in years: I grew terribly tired of
> people who couldn't demonstrate the simplest matters of audience awareness
> standing there presuming to talk about the very subject which they were unable
> to demonstrate their ability to use.

> I would hope that what you wrote as a dissertation topic and what you presented
> as a CCCC oral presentation and what you wrote as a book chapter were very
> different in approach and execution, because the audience and the purpose and
> the medium was different in each situation.

My dissertation was on the politics of ethos. The paper/chapter was/is on
the ethos of our field(s). The approach and execution differ very little,
actually. That is my bias...ethos. What I have been hearing (from some)
are arguments (logos) that seem to privilege pathos (audience), though I
think they are privileging, clear and logical talks. The ways
that these arguments often proceed are to attack someone's
assuming that the speaker writes using words-to-impress..that, as you put
it, some speakers "[stand] there presuming to talk about the very subject
which they were unable to demonstrate their ability to use."

> A couple years ago I was flamed big time on this list for a couple of comments I
> posted. And you know, no one ever asked me what my intentions were. No one
> ever said "Is that what you meant?" Nope, everyone just raged my case because
> what mattered was their interpretation of my intentions. And you know, they
> were right to do that. Because while they got my intentions all wrong, that was
> my fault for being a bad writer, not their fault for misinterpreting.
> Maybe that's not what Tish meant, but it's what I took her to mean. Lovers of
> language who are fools as rhetoricians.

That's too bad that you weren't asked what you meant. I have taken great
pains today to explain what I meant regardless of whether anyone asked.
And in some cases, my responses have been an attempt to keep the
conversation lend credence to points well taken, to
perspectives shared and opinions offered. Some responses to me have made
assumptions about what I meant that I felt needed to be questioned.

Perhaps that makes me the fool in your eyes. But I don't think that what
the audience perceives is *always* what is.


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